GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The West Michigan Construction Institute celebrated its opening in Grand Rapids with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

WMCI is a construction education center that focuses on educating skilled construction workers. People gathered at the ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday morning at the WMCI building on Century Avenue near Martin Luther King Jr. Street SE.

“The timing couldn’t be better… Fifty percent of the skilled trades workforce will be retiring in the next 10 to 15 years,” WMCI President Jen Schottke said. “Now is the time, but it’s always been the time. I think construction, unfortunately, is kind of a forgotten career sometimes.”

The building already opened with a “soft launch” last spring with only 75 students and five classes. The official launch will happen this fall, when the number of programs will increase to include carpentry, concrete and others, according to a WMCI press release.

“I happen to think this is on par with college. Construction is a lifelong career and it does require lifelong learning. Every day in construction is learning something new because no project goes perfectly according to plan. There’s always problem-solving and critically thinking. We’re just trying to lift up how amazing and noble it is to be a tradesperson,” Schottke said.

WMCI offers daytime high school classes, collaborating with Grand Rapids Public Schools, Northview, Jenison, and the Literacy Center of West Michigan. It also offers a Construction Core program for non-native English speakers and summer camps starting in June for middle schoolers to explore the construction trades and learn basic skills.

The institute hopes to fill a worker shortage in the construction industry. According to a recent model by Associated Builders and Contractors, the industry needs another 650,000 workers across the nation on top of the average hiring for 2022 to meet the labor demand.

“This is going to get people into good-paying jobs and it’s going to help our community because this is an area we know we are at a deficient when it comes to the need in West Michigan,” said Bill Pink, president of Grand Rapids Community College.

The West Michigan construction industry is projected to grow almost 16% over the next 10 years, but almost 48% of today’s construction workers are expected to retire in the next 15 years, according to the release.

“WMCI will educate hundreds of young, ambitious, expertly trained trade workers every year, which is going to make a huge difference in the market,” WMCI board Chair Brian Potter said. “WMCI’s state-of-the-art facility shows our region’s commitment to trade employment as a viable and noble career option and gives aspiring tradespeople a local facility for hands-on-learning during or after high school.”

Fall 2022 enrollment opens in late spring, including additional specialty certifications like building industry consulting services international, certified technician or copper installer. WMCI will also host part of the GRCC electrical apprenticeship program.

“We want to capture those young people who are smart with their hands and their minds. Those natural builders and makers and deconstructors and graders and the ones that are so curious about the way things work. Those are our kinds of students,” Schottke said.